Chris McQuitty, Head Chef at Salthouse Harbour Hotel in Ipswich, may be only 26 years old but with a creative and visual flair matched by the flavours of the food, this is one chef to watch. He says that his energy and passion come from trying to discover new methods for next month’s menus, “the knowledge that we can always do better, we can always be better chefs and ultimately go to sleep knowing that we’ve improved.”
Here he shares one of his favourite summer dishes:
“So at long last the British summer is in full swing, Pimms is everywhere as is English asparagus and the one fruit that is quintessentially the trademark of the season – the strawberry.
“The moderate climate that we have enjoyed this year has helped this gem, a decent downpour or two have nurtured the plants and the sunshine that encourages you out of bed at the weekend has promoted the fruit to grow ripe and plump, with that just correct amount of sugar. They are world renowned, the English strawberries. Even the proudest nation’s chefs will admit that their alternative just isn’t so.
“For my recipe I am going to elaborate on two of my favourite methods when it comes to strawberries. Maceration – by definition a technique which entails mixing a berry with sugar and an acid until they soften and release a syrup which you could happily guzzle down on it’s own and leaving the berry sweet, tart, soft and a beautifully bright colour. The other is Italian meringue – a timeless favourite of nearly every pastry chef that you may be lucky enough to find.”
You will need four decent sized strawberries per portion, the below yields enough syrup for three to four portions.
Strawberries – four per portion
100g caster sugar
2 lemons, juice
Simply mix the sugar, lemon juice and water together in a bowl, and add the strawberries to it. An age old tip which I’m pretty sure I will never forget that an Australian chef once gave me was to slice the top and bottom off of the lemon before you attempt to juice it, which will allow you get the largest amount of juice without giving you a thorough work out. This picture should explain my meaning a little better:
Anyway – leave your strawberries in a covered bowl to do their thing. The maceration will take at least 15 minutes. However, you can leave them in the syrup for as long as 24 hours. The only result will be one that improves.
The next part of the dish is the mint granita. It’s place in the final dish is one that refreshes and lifts the over all flavour, and again is a wonderful thing on it’s own. Personally I cannot think of anything more pleasant as part of a Mojito, but that’s a different idea altogether.
10g picked mint leaves
1 lime juiced and zested
25g caster sugar
Add the sugar and lime zest and juice to the water and warm on a low heat until the sugar dissolves. It is important not to boil it as this will turn your beautiful granita brown. Once your sugar has disappeared add the leaves and blend until the mix is a uniform colour. Then simply pop it in the freezer in a tub – it’s that simple!
The strawberry sorbet is another refreshing part of this dish, and is simple to make too. The recipe is as follows:
100g of strawberry puree (or pureed strawberries for that matter, with the green tips removed)
30ml of water
30g of trimoline (or another inverted sugar syrup like glucose)
Warm the water to dissolve the sugar syrup on a low heat. The purpose of the sugar syrup is to prevent the sorbet crystallising, where the sorbet would have a grainy like texture. It is also the basic element which stops an ice cream or sorbet freezing like a block of ice, and the inverted sugar syrup has a lessened sweet taste, allowing the natural sugar and flavour of the strawberry puree to be the predominant flavour. The mix should ideally be frozen in an ice cream maker, but it is possible to freeze it in a bowl, stirring at regular intervals.
The Italian meringue is another important part of this dish, and provides a vast amount of the sweetness. Italian meringue is one of my personal favourite things to make, as the basis of it has a few key variables. The principles are very basic – sugar syrup to a specific temperature then whipped into egg whites – but the amount of air already in the whites prior to the syrup being added plays an important role. Too much and it will have a slightly lumpy appearance. Too little and it will simply be a runny mess.
2 egg whites – it is important not to have yolk or shell in these!
50g caster sugar
1 teaspoon of glucose syrup
Whip the egg whites in a bowl until the form and hold peaks, you should be able to do the infamous ‘upside down’ trick (where you literally turn the bowl upside down without them moving). Here’s a picture:
Next, add the sugar, water and glucose to a small saucepan. Another chef’s trick is to run your finger under water before attempting to coax the syrup from the spoon – no sticky finger!
Heat this mix to 121°C, and slowly whisk it into the whites. The temperature of the sugar syrup cooks the white, and sets it. You will be left with a lovely meringue like this:
The easiest way to use the meringue is to pop it in a piping bag, easier to serve and use.
I’ve used all the elements in the following manner – to create a dish which we think is quite nice.